February 17, 2010

ever feel like an ORTHODOX HERETIC? join me in giving up your certainty for Lent

Peter Rollins' Orthodox HereticThis Lent I’d like to extend to you a friendly challenge, one I will undertake myself:  if you consider yourself a Christian I’d like you to suspend any and all confidence you have in your “Christian” identity and join me in this Lenten experiment…

I’ve decided to forgo giving up sweets, coffee, or certain foods. Instead, I’m going to give up my confidence, I’m going to question my certainty, in the hope that I’ll recognize what I’ve been blind to: for starts, the pain and suffering I’ve denied in myself and in others. 

I’m convinced that CERTAINTY is all too often grounded in DENIAL, which leads me to exclude others, to ignore the palpable reality of their existence.  For instance, if we want to prevent another tragedy in Haiti, maybe we need to question why and how we so effectively ignored them until now.  Haiti, for instance, is the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Western Hemisphere, with 83,698 members in 2008. But for many Christians in this country, they might as well be “devil worshipers,” as Pat Robertson recently labeled them.  Our certainty in our Christian identity and our relationship with God, leaves little space for us to recognize or consider the Haitian reality, much less respond to the actual pain of their suffering.  Maybe “CERTAINTY” needs to be defined as a sin, one from which “Christians” in particular need to repent.

In fact, when it comes to my personal life, giving up certainty for Lent becomes even more challenging.  Years of placing all my faith in God’s purposes for creation, unconsciously allowed me to ignore the consequences of my own actions and their impact on others.  Having written and given numerous bible studies stressing Jesus’ concern for the poor and the marginalized, it never really hit home until I realized that all this activity prevented me from taking a closer look at myself: to what extent do I really welcome the stranger, the other into my life? Not too mention, the realization that the most threatening strangers are not necessarily those who live in other countries or cultures, but those who are closest to me, whose reality I’d prefer not to recognize, beginning first and foremost with the parts of myself that have never been “Christianized.”

With that said, I’d like to begin with the first of a series of weekly exercises that I will engage in through Lent.  After the exercise I will share my reflections (a day or two later) in the comment section, and invite you to do the same.


I’ve chosen to begin my “Lenten Exercise” by reflecting on Peter Rollins’ parable, “The Orthodox Heretic,” which he first published in his book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief [link], and has recently included in a collection of his parables, also entitled, The Orthodox Heretic [link].

To watch Peter Rollins read his parable on YouTube [link here].

To read “The Orthodox Heretic” [link here].

Join us February 21st for an ongoing discussion of Peter Rollins’ parables at Empire Brewing Company [link].


  1. Sorry, for the delay, I’ve been bedridden with the Swine Flu, but thankfully am now on the mend. It became for me, an unexpected exercise in uncertainty, since my illness forced me to lay aside all the plans I’d made for the week, and even prodded me to question some of my priorities.

    In any case, while lying there helpless, I remembered something a friend from Kenya shared with me. After moving to New York from Kenya, when she was recovering from the birth of her first child, she suffered the harshest form of culture shock: she had lost the continual support of friends and family that she had taken for granted in her native community. She couldn’t get used to the way we, Americans (at least in the Northeast) ignore each other on a daily basis. She was exhausted and left all too often to fend for herself, something many women in our society complain about, but largely accept as fact. No one came to check on her every day, no one brought her meals, or held her baby in the afternoon so she could sleep. Not only that, she noticed that, when people asked her how she felt, they didn’t really expect her to tell the truth. “Regardless of whether they’re happy, sad or depressed, Americans all respond with an automatic, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’” She felt extremely sad, and isolated in this sadness.

    Its too easy to chalk this up to our obsession with the self. While its true that our constant self-absorption leaves very limited space within our private worlds to welcome others, I believe many of us our generous at heart.

    I think Americans are afraid. As the traditional social fabric unravels, the sort of support systems which helped those in need are disappearing, but so too are the social structures, the hierarchies and gender roles, that kept people in their place. In the process, we can’t help but become a bit anxious and suspicious about those all around us, leading us to fence ourselves off from each other. We’ve always done it, but not to those within our own nation, our own social group, or community. The loss of social structures exposes what we’ve systematically been blind to. So while uncertainty makes us panic, I think its time to allow it, to recognize it as an opportunity to understand ourselves better, but more importantly to encounter those we’ve long denied.

    The first time I read Peter Rollins’ parable about the deeply faithful man who defends the stranger condemned by the rest of the community, the following words struck me as very profound: “You have written that I must protect him at all costs. Your words of love have been spelled out by the lines on this man’s face, your text is found in the texture of his flesh.” The Bible tells us to care for the stranger, but if we’ve systematically excluded the stranger from the get go we have no way to even welcome him or her into our midst, at least not until recently. Now that the stranger is actually our neighbor, our co-worker, the person on the street, attempts to ignore or reject those persons will inevitably fail… what if its our chance, and one not to be taken lightly, to discern what’s next.

    Next Post: An exercise in letting go of some traditional concepts, starting with the big one: God.

    Comment by Sue Wright (NoOutcasts) — February 25, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

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